Saturday, July 23, 2016

Understanding Revelation 20:1-6

Between summer and family plans, ministry, and a significant writing project, I have had difficulty carving out time to post. However, I am now back to looking at why I hold to the view of the end-times called Amillennialism. In my previous posts I explained that this change in stance is what led to my relinquishing my ordination with the Evangelical Free Church Of America, I gave an overview of the main seventeen reasons why I now affirm this position, and I also looked more in depth at the first two of those reasons.

This brings us to the third reason why I am an amillennialist: The only mention of a 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ in the Bible is found in Revelation 20:1-6. That text is best understood in the context of the book of Revelation to refer to a reign of Christ in heaven with saints who have died—and this during the age between his first and second comings (in other words, right now). In other words, the best understanding of this passage is the one set forth by amillennialists.

Here is what we read in Revelation 20:1-6:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (emphasis added)

I emphasized the phrases and clauses that lead people to believe this speaks of a future thousand year reign of Jesus Christ and saints on earth—thus a millennium. However, there are a number of reasons why I believe this instead refers to the reign of Jesus Christ and saints in heaven for a long period of time that spans the entire church—in other words, right now. I will spend several posts dealing with this passage since it is the main millennial passage. Presently I will look at some introductory and contextual reasons for my understanding and then in future posts we will zero in on the six verses themselves.

1. My first reason merely removes an obstacle as it reminds us that the amillennial stance is not new or strange, but has a long history in the Church.  “The amillennial understanding of Revelation 20:1-6 as describing the reigning of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven has good standing in the church since the days of Augustine.”[1]

2. Premillennialists commonly assert that the millennium is a reigning of Christ on earth, as well as a reigning of believers with him on earth who have died and been raised, as well as a reigning of believers with him on earth who have not died. However his text says nothing of believers who have not died. The late theologian and scholar, Anthony Hoekema, puts it this way:
The millennium of the [premillennialists] is not the millennium described in Revelation 20:4-6…. When…we read Revelation 20:4-6 in the way [premillennialists] want us to read it, we find in the passage no reference whatever to people still living at the time the millennium begins or to people with “unresurrected bodies”…. We conclude that Revelation 20:4-6 does not describe the millennium of the [premillennialists], even when it is understood as [they] want us to understand.  The [premillennial] understanding of the millennium, in other words, is not based on a literal interpretation of this most important passage.[2]

Sam Storms agrees and disputes those who say the premillennial understanding of Revelation 20 is superior because it is literal. He cites Arthur Lewis, The Dark Side Of The Millennium: The Problem Of Evil In Rev. 20:1-10 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 50:  “The essential and concrete aspects of the text may not be ‘spiritualized’ out of existence. The martyred and enthroned saints are real, the angel who binds Satan is real, Satan himself is very real, and the wicked nations in revolt against the King are real nations and part of history. The question is not, therefore, which view is the more literal, but which correctly understands the place and purpose of the thousand years.”[3] (emphasis added)

Storms concludes: “The point is simply that the [amillennial version of the] millennium for which I will argue is just as real and literal as the millennium for which the premillennialist contends.”[4]

3. As we will see with greater clarity when we look in detail at the six verses, nothing is said in this passage at all about a reign of Christ and saints on earth. This is rather a reign in heaven.

4. If the main purpose of the millennium has to do with Jews and the nation of Israel, as some premillennialists assert, “is it not passing strange that Revelation 20:4-6 says not a word about the Jews, the nation of Israel, the land of Palestine, or Jerusalem?  This would not be so serious if the idea of the restoration of Israel were only an incidental aspect of the millennium.  But, according to dispensational [premillennial] teaching, the restoration of Israel is the central purpose of the millennium! It is therefore all the more significant that nothing of this alleged central purpose is mentioned in the only biblical passage which deals directly with Christ’s millennial reign, Revelation 20:4-6.”[5]

5. Finally, we must grasp something about the structure of the book of Revelation itself that has bearing upon the meaning of Revelation 20:1-6. Revelation “consists of seven sections which run parallel to each other, each of which depicts the church and the world [in recurring cycles] from the time of Christ’s first coming to the time of his second coming.”[6]   “The seventh section, chapters 20-22, narrates the doom of the dragon (who is Satan), thus completing the description of the overthrow of the enemies of Christ. The final judgment and the final punishment of the wicked are depicted at the end of chapter 20…vv. 11-12, 14-15. In addition, this section describes the final triumph of Christ and his church, and the renewed universe, here called the new heaven and the new earth.

“Note that though these seven sections are parallel to each other, they also reveal a certain amount of [end-times] progress.  The last section, for example, takes us further into the future than the other sections.  Although the final judgment has already been briefly described in 6:12-17, it is not set forth in full detail until we come to 20:11-15. Though the final joy of the redeemed in the life to come has been hinted at in 7:15-17, it is not until we reach chapter 21 that we find a detailed and elaborate description of the blessedness of life on the new earth (21:1-22:5). Hence this method of interpretation is called progressive parallelism.”[7]

The significance of this structure of Revelation is that each of the cycles shows us a picture of what is happening in the world now—each of the cycles also progressing further as the book unfolds. So, we should not be surprised that Revelation 20:1-6 gives us insight into what is happening now (just like with previous cycles in the book) that goes beyond anything revealed earlier in the book. Nor should we be surprised that the final cycle goes further and gives us a picture of the future climactic new heaven and new earth—one not previously given in Revelation.  

Now that we have gained some introductory and contextual perspective on this text, we are ready in our next post to dive into the passage itself, to discover what it says and that its meaning is in line with the amillennial stance.

[1] Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible And The Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986, repr.), 183.

[2] Hoekema, The Bible, 220-21.

[3] Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, Christian Focus, 2013), 428.

[4] Storms, Kingdom Come, 429.

[5] Hoekema, The Bible, 222.

[6] Hoekema, The Bible, 223.

[7] Hoekema, The Bible, 225-26.
On the clause, “And I saw” (20:1a [see also 19:11, 17, 19; 20:4, 11; 21:1]) which some premillennialists argue suggests chronological treatment in chapters 19-20, Storms, Kingdom Come, 430, writes: “The phrase…appears countless times in Revelation and need only indicate the sequence in which John received the visions. It does not necessarily indicate any historical relation among the many visions themselves.”

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Why I Am An Amillennialist," Part 3

It has been a while since I have been able to post about why I am now an amillennialist—i.e. why I believe that the reign of Christ and saints is taking place now, at the same time as the church age, and is not a future reign. So far I have introduced the topic and then given the first reason for this stance. This brings us to the second reason…

2. The Scripture’s use of two age terminology (this age and the age-to-come) fits better with an Amillennial position.

Simply-put, what I am saying here is that the Bible sees the next period to come, after the one we now live in, to be the new heaven and new earth that arrives after Christ’s Second Coming. It does not appear to anticipate a third intervening period or age before the new heaven and earth, a millennial reign on the earth that is distinct from the new heaven and new earth.

I say this for the following reasons.

In the New Testament authors speak only of this current age and the age to come (or similar terminology): Matthew 12:32; Luke 18:30; 20:34-35; Rom. 8:18; He. 2:5; 6:5. This also includes the “last days” as a label for the present age vs. the “last day” (always a reference to the future age-to-come): John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; John 11:24; 12:48.

“The New Testament introduces an important modification into the scheme of salvation [history] as set forth by the Old Testament. Whereas the Old foretold one coming of Messiah and with him the definitive establishment of the kingdom of God, the New informs us that God’s purposes are, in fact, realized in two successive stages or phases; what the Old Testament saw as one act of the consummation of redemption, the New Testament sees as two acts or phases of the one and same consummation. Another way to say it is that the New Testament presents a scheme of overlapping ages: something new has begun in Christ, but the ‘present evil age’ (Gal. 1:4) is still with us. In principle, all things have been created anew with the first advent of the Son of God and the gift of his Spirit. However, it has not yet arrived in its consummate fullness and will not arrive until the second coming of Christ. Therefore, the time between his two comings is one of overlap of old and new [ages].”[1]

“The New Testament, then, purports that the coming of Jesus of Nazareth has inaugurated the beginning of the end. By distinguishing between ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’ (e.g. Mt. 12:32; Eph. 1:21; cf. 4 Ezra 7:50), it informs us that God has acted in his Son at the ‘end of these days’ (Heb. 1:2) to bring to fulfillment the promises made to the fathers. However, this Son will come again to bring to consummation that which was inaugurated by his first coming, to save ‘to the uttermost’ (Heb. 7:25) those who are eagerly waiting for him (Heb. 9:28).”[2]

Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, 158-60, rightly argues that 2 Peter 3:8-13 argues for a time before Noah, the time from Noah until the second coming of Christ, and then the heavens and earth that shall be, the object of our hope. This text seems to argue that the new heavens and new earth will be fully consummated at the second coming of Christ without any intervening period. Storms (160) continues: “Finally, the premillennialist argues that during the millennial age it will be possible for people to come to saving faith in Christ. But Peter’s argument is that the very reason why Christ has not yet returned is in order that he might patiently extend the opportunity for men to repent. This is meaningful only if it is impossible to repent subsequent to Christ’s return.” The point is that there does not appear to be an added age between the present age and age-to-come.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 we discover that it is “at the time of Christ’s second coming/advent, not 1,000 years later, that the eternal punishment of the lost occurs.”[3] So, there does not appear to be a third, i.e. intermediate, age expected.

Perhaps if this were the only argument offered, it would not be convincing. However, along with all the other arguments that will be offered, there is a cumulative effect.

[1] Don Garlington, “Reigning With Christ: Revelation 20:1-6 In Its Salvatioon-Historical Setting,” (accessed on 9/22/2010 at 2-3.

[2] Garlington, “Reigning,” 3.

[3] Storms, Kingdom Come, 163. Storms (164) writes: “When does the eternal destruction of the unsaved occur? When shall they pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord? Paul’s answer is: ‘When he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints’ (v. 10…).”